A lorry driver who almost killed a teenage cyclist eight years ago has told The Times of his harrowing experience and his battle to come to terms with an accident that was not his fault.
Steve James, 46, was driving his articulated Scania lorry down the single-carriageway A428 near Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, on a typical day in a standard 1,800-mile week. Two minutes later, several people’s lives had changed irreversibly.
In an interview with The Times, Mr James said: “I saw a cyclist about half a mile away. I moved right over to straddle the white line down the centre of the road because there was no oncoming traffic. I’ve always been told to give the cyclist plenty of room, because the vacuum created by the lorry when you’re going quite quick can pull them in front of the car that’s behind you. As I got level with the cyclist he just turned right. Never looked, never put his arm up. If he’d looked, he wouldn’t have done it, but he just did it.
“So I spun the wheel as fast as I could, braked, put the vehicle into the ditch on the other side of the road, hit the cyclist with the front near side of the cab, threw him down the road about 30 or 40ft. I ended up in the ditch. I didn’t see him go down the road – I just heard the crump.
“I couldn’t get out the driver’s side, I had to climb out and get out of the passenger side. I ran over. There were about three to four people there. We did the best we could for him – first aid and so on. I grabbed my quilt off my bunk and wrapped him up to keep him warm until the ambulance arrived.”
The cyclist’s helmet had not been done up properly and had come off with the impact of the lorry. He landed on his head when he hit the road, and a large part of his scalp was missing. He had bitten right through his lips. But the worst were the severe chest injuries he sustained, and he had to be put into an induced coma while the swelling to his chest went down.
The lorry had a modern fibreglass front, which crumples much more easily than metal. On the front was a clear imprint of the cyclist. “If it had been one that was more solid I think the impact would have killed him,” Mr James said.
When he phoned the hospital later, a nurse said: “You put him here, you shouldn’t be contacting him. Are you feeling guilty?”
“Yes, I was,” Mr James said. “I was driving the lorry that hit him. There’s a certain amount of guilt that you take on board. Whether or not you are supposed to feel guilty, I don’t know. But you were involved in it, and until someone turns around and says, ‘Look mate, it wasn’t your fault’, you have a lot of guilt which you carry around.
“Every time I see a cyclist I remember the accident. But I got the letter that said the accident was nothing to do with you, we’re not taking any further action. And that was such a relief to get that.
“The police rang up the day after and asked if they could pass on my details to his mother. I said yes. She rang me up and said, ‘Thank you for not killing my son’. And I cried. It was really emotional. You don’t know what else to do.”
After a few years, the cyclist recovered, but continued to have short-term memory loss.
Mr James now sounds his horn at every cyclist he passes, to warn them that he is there. He gets a lot of angry responses to this, but he doesn’t mind. “If they respond, that means they’ve seen me, and I’m happy,” he said.
He thinks that the cycle routes need to be completely rethought.
“You look at Boris Johnson and London and the cycle paths. He’s put them on the near side of the vehicles. So they’re in the cycle path and they’re undertaking all the time.
“I can’t think of any solution apart from take the cyclists off the road and give them their own cycle ways.”